Apple announced the launch of the iBookstore in Japan this week, now available in a total of 51 countries. This is an important move for Apple, following the December 2012 holiday season when Google's Nexus 7 reportedly outsold Apple's iPad in Japan, lowering Apple's share of the tablet market.
Apple is using exclusive content to help spur Japanese readers to purchase books from the iBookstore. As mentioned in a press release:
iBookstore customers can choose from a wide selection of enhanced books that look incredible on iPad, as well as digitally exclusive titles including Ryu Murakami’s fiction novels, At the Airport, Exodus of Middle-School Students and I’ll Always Be With You, Always, which has interactive emails in each chapter to bring you even deeper into the story.
This type of exclusive content is exactly what Apple needs to get a strong foothold in Japan.
Apple vs. Amazon
Amazon beat Apple to the punch by opening the Japanese Kindle Store last October, offering 50,000 Japanese-language Kindle books. But Apple upped the ante this week by making hundreds of thousands of books available for purchase in the iBookstore.
It's obvious that Amazon's main goal is to sell as many e-books as possible, as evidenced by the wide variety of platforms on which Kindle books are available. You can read Kindle books on dedicated Kindle readers, PCs, Macs, as well as iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry devices, or in any popular web browser using the Kindle Cloud Reader.
While Apple also wants to sell e-books, its overriding objective is to sell iPads. For example, multi-touch e-books created using iBooks Author can only be read on an iPad (not even on an iPhone or Mac). No technological limitations prevent multi-touch e-books from being read on other devices. However, limiting their availability to the iPad (including the new iPad mini), helps sell more iPads.
While this restriction may dampen iBookstore sales, Apple does have an ace in the hole — the books are higher quality in the iBookstore compared to the Kindle. A big reason for the difference in quality is Amazon's 127KB image-size limit in Kindle books (as well as an overall book size limit of 50MB). This is a real problem for books containing a large number of images. It causes images with text or other fine detail to appear blurry when the user taps the image to enlarge it. In contrast, Apple has a 2GB limit on the size of books in the iBookstore, which allows for beautiful, high-definition images. For example, the most recent book I published was 570 pages in length and included thousands of images. The size of the book in the iBookstore was 150MB. It took many hours and lots of compromises to get the book size down to 50MB for the Kindle store! Apple has a clear quality advantage that it should heavily promote.
iBooks 3.1 and iTunes Producer 2.9
In conjunction with the launch of the iBookstore in Japan, Apple has released iBooks 3.1, which contains improvements for reading Asian-language books.
Apple also has released iTunes Producer 2.9, an app for companies signed up with a Content Provider account with Apple. Companies can use the app to publish books to the iBookstore The new features in iTunes Producer include:
• Support for Japanese-language books • The ability to specify that books are part of a series • The ability to specify a book contains explicit content and is not suitable for minors
In addition, Apple has also made it easier for publishers to update metadata such as the title or description of their book. This is a very welcome change. Previously, once a book was published in the iBookstore, you had to contact Apple to make any metadata changes.
As an Apple fan, avid reader, and author, I’m looking forward to seeing where Apple takes the iBookstore next.